Dr. Michael White – Tricentennial Rag

Dr. Michael White

Title: Tricentennial Rag

Artist: Dr. Michael White

Label: Basin Street

Formats: CD, Digital

Release date: June 29, 2018

 

 

This year the city of New Orleans is celebrating its 300th anniversary (1718-2018) and acclaimed clarinetist, Dr. Michael White, set out to commemorate the occasion by paying tribute to the city’s most important original musical contribution. Of course we’re talking about jazz. Birthed from the rhythms of Congo Square and gestated in the French Quarter over 100 years ago, the genre is an indelible part of the African American experience in NOLA and beyond.

New Orleans born and bred, White has been immersed in the city’s music scene for decades and holds numerous distinctions, including Heritage Fellow of the National Endowment for the Arts and recipient of the Jazz Hero Award from the Jazz Journalists Association of America. Not only is he a virtuoso on his instrument, but White is also a composer of note as well as a historian and educator who has long been championing NOLA’s jazz heritage.

On Tricentennial Rag, White offers ten original compositions, many inspired by early jazz musicians and traditional styles, but with a contemporary twist. Paying homage to the street where Jelly Roll Morton spent his childhood, “Frenchmen Street Strut” opens the album. There’s a wonderful interplay on this track between White, Shaye Cohn on cornet, and David L. Harris on trombone, while Detroit A. Brooks’s banjo solo is a further connection to the African roots of jazz. White takes over on “Blues on the Bayou,” a showcase for clarinet that he performs with aplomb, stretching out the blue notes. The mid-tempo title track is a modern take on ragtime, full of interesting modulations and solo turns with hints of R&B-styled melismas. Kicking off with a snare solo signaling the start of Carnival, “On Mardi Gras Day” is song celebrating Mardi Gras Indians and the Zulu parade with vocals by Gregory Stafford (who doubles on trumpet).

“I Saw Jesus Standing in the Water” might seem like a departure—the song connects to themes from the black church but musically doesn’t stray far from traditionl jazz. Other highlights include the clarinet moans of “Loneliness” and the bluesy tribute to “Sassy Creole Woman.” The album closes with the only non-original song—a fantastic rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching In” that’s performed in a wholly original manner with the band changing tempos and swapping solos—this time with Seva Venet on banjo. I must also give a shoutout to Steve Pistorius, the pianist for all but one track, who is given ample opportunities to showcase his virtuosity.

Who better to celebrate NOLA as the cradle of jazz than Dr. Michael White, one of the leading authorities of the traditional New Orleans style. He proves this again and again on Tricentennial Rag, keeping the music fresh and tasty with delicious licks and righteous rags that take NOLA’s jazz traditions into the 21st century.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

Little Freddie King – Fried Rice & Chicken

Little Freddy King
Title: Fried Rice & Chicken

Artist: Little Freddie King

Label: Orleans

Formats: CD, LP, Digital

Release date: April 6, 2018

 

 

Delta blues guitarist Little Freddie King has been a fixture on the New Orleans scene for decades, performing regularly at the NOLA Jazz and Heritage Festival as well as clubs in “the lowest bowels of the mighty Ninth Ward.” Though not as well-known as the other guitar slinging Freddie King from Texas, “Little Freddie” is still the real deal—a Mississippi-born bluesman who learned to play guitar on his daddy’s knee, claims Lightnin’ Hopkins as a cousin, and once toured Europe with Bo Diddley and John Lee Hooker.

In 1971, Harmonica Williams and Little Freddie King released Rock N Roll Blues on the obscure Ahura Mazda label. As one might guess, this limited pressing didn’t provide King with much exposure beyond his adopted hometown, and it’s difficult to find a copy these days. Over two decades later, the local Orleans Records label released two of King’s first solo projects, Swamp Boogie in 1997 and Sing Sang Sung in 2000.

Fried Rice & Chicken is a compilation featuring the best tracks from King’s two contrasting albums for Orleans. The first half, recorded in the studio from 1994-1995, features backing by Earl “Pass the Hatchet” Stanley and Robert Wilson on electric bass, Jason Sipher on upright bass, Kerry Brown and Bradley Wisham on drums, with Crazy Rick Allen on Wurlitzer electric piano and organ. While not exactly polished, the tracks are at least a half step up from King’s raw club performances. Notable tracks include the opening song “Cleos Back,” which some might recognize from the Tom Hanks movie Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, and “Mean Little Woman” featured in the HBO series Treme. Yes, Little Freddie has been getting some good exposure since these songs were initially released.

The second half of the album was recorded live at the Dream Palace, a club on Frenchman Street in the Faubourg Marigny section of New Orleans. You might say this is the real Little Freddie King, offering up the raw gut bucket blues of Southern juke joints. On these tracks King is accompanied by his regular band at the time: Wacko Wade Wright on drums, Anthony Anderson on electric bass, and Bobby Lewis DiTullio on harmonica. Highlights include the title track “Sing Sang Sung,” a great instrumental showcasing King and DiTullio, and “Bad Chicken” featuring “squawking” guitar licks.

Though there are a number of different Freddie King compilations, Fried Rice & Chicken encapsulates the best of his Orleans Records output.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

Delfeayo Marsalis – Kalamazoo

Kalamzoo
Title: Kalamazoo

Artist: Delfeayo Marsalis

Label: Troubadour Jass Records

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: September 29, 2017

 

 

While on tour promoting music from his album, The Last Southern Gentleman (2014), Delfeayo Marsalis’ recorded his first ever live album, Kalamazoo: An Evening with Delfeayo Marsalis. As a collection of mostly jazz standards, mixed with Marsalis’s originals, the album presents unrehearsed, yet polished renditions of these tunes. Kalamazoo captures the creative process and spontaneity of Marsalis’s quartet—Ellis Marsalis (pianist and Delfeayo’s father), Reginald Veal (bass), and Ralph Peterson (drums)—on stage, and presents a collective sound that is pleasing to the listener.

The album begins with a soulful rendition of “Tin Roof Blues,” a slow blues that take us back to the juke joint. The use of blue notes, scooping, and sliding in the ensemble’s performance imitates the vocal timbres and sounds that govern the blues traditions. During his solo, Marsalis also uses vibrato and growls as way of recreating the groans and moans of early blues singers.

Mid-album we hear Ellis Marsalis’s trio on “If I Were a Bell,” featuring Veal and Peterson. Although improvised in the moment, Ellis does not miss a beat as he weaves together melodic and harmonic ideas with syncopated rhythms in his outstanding piano solo. Aside from Ellis’s masterly performance, Veal contributes a flawless bowed bass solo in the style of Slam Stewart, while Peterson adds a vibrant drum solo when trading off with Marsalis.

A delightful moment on this concert is Delfeayo’s performance with Western Michigan University students—Christian O’Neill (vocalist) and Madison George (drums)—on “Blue Kalamazoo.” Marsalis invites them on stage for an impromptu blues performance, and engages in a call-and-response dialogue with O’Neill as they exchange improvised lines and short melodic riffs.

Kalamazoo offers a sonic glimpse into Marsalis’s musical capabilities as a performer and bandleader, while displaying the expressive, dynamic, and virtuosic abilities of each ensemble member. The album is a great example of what happens when jazz musicians get together on the bandstand.

Reviewed by Jamaal Baptiste

Kermit Ruffins & Irvin Mayfield – A Beautiful World

A Beautiful World
Title: A Beautiful World

Artist: Kermit Ruffins & Irvin Mayfield

Label: Basin Street

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: September 22, 2017

 

 

Celebrating Basin Street Records’ 20th anniversary, musician Kermit Ruffins and producer Irvin Mayfield join together on a collaborative album, A Beautiful World. This album includes different musical configurations and features other Basin Street Records’ artists: Rebirth Brass Band, Dr. Michael White, Jason Marsalis, and Bill Summers. Other artists making guest appearances include Haile Reinhart, Cyril Neville, John Boutté, Glen David Andrews, Shannon Powell, and many other New Orleans musicians. Basin Street claims “A Beautiful World is the ultimate party in record form” and I must agree—it’s a non-stop celebration as well as a demonstration of the musical genius and creativity of Kermit Ruffins and Irvin Mayfield.

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The party begins with “Well, Alright,” a big band piece with tasteful horn solos, handclaps, and a swingin’ rhythm section. Along with the sounds of the big band, we hear vocal support from the artists encouraging soloists during their solos, which is participatory characteristic of African American music. “Drop Me Off In New Orleans” reflects the cheerful and jovial sounds that can be heard while walking through the streets of New Orleans, capturing a true representation of the city’s tradition jazz music legacy. In addition, there are soulful compositions and arrangements such as “Move On Ahead,” “Good Life,” “Be My Lady,” “Allen Toussaint,” “Just A Closer Walk With Thee,” and “When The Saints Go Marching In.” These songs express the spirit of the album, which is to honor the past while celebrating Basin Street Records’ 20th anniversary and the beginning of New Orleans 300th anniversary.

A notable feature of A Beautiful World is the short spoken word interludes interspersed with musical compositions throughout the album. Narratives of Kermit Ruffins and Irvin Mayfield are heard through the words of actor Wendell Pierce, DJ Soul Sister, Irvin Mayfield III, and The Urban Cellist. These interludes not only provide a contrasting element to the project, they also offer the listener a glimpse into the experiences of Ruffins and Mayfield.

When asked about the recording process Ruffins responded, “Good food and good music are my passions. I wanted to make a record people could eat.” Metaphorically speaking, A Beautiful World is certainly food for the soul. From its foot-tapping rhythms, groovy basslines, rich harmonies, and melodious hooks to its historical musical representations, this album is a wonderful treat for the listener and a heartfelt tribute to the city of New Orleans and Basin Street Records.

Reviewed by Jamaal Baptiste

Chris Thomas King – Hotel Voodoo

Chris Thomas King
Title: Hotel Voodoo

Artist: Chris Thomas King

Label: 21st Century Blues/dist. Virtual Label

Formats: CD, Vinyl, MP3

Release date: September 14, 2017

 

 

Guitarist Chris Thomas King’s career has taken a long and winding road from Louisiana to Europe and back again. In 1979, when he was just 17, King was hailed by folklorists as “the last major folk blues discovery of the 20th Century.” He later ditched this style along with the whole notion of authenticity in the blues, embracing instead “hip hop modernity and digital aesthetics.” The backlash from (primarily white) blues audiences compelled him to move to Europe in 1993. Ironically, when he returned several years later, King was once again cast as an “authentic” Delta blues guitarist—this time on the silver screen―as “Tommy Johnson” in the Coen Brothers’ film O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000), as Blind Willie Johnson in Martin Scorsese’s The Blues (2003), and as Lowell Fulson in the Ray Charles biopic Ray (2004).

These days King assumes total artistic control over his projects which are released on his 21st Century Blues label.  Hotel Voodoo, his first new studio album in five years, features his touring band members Jeff Mills (drums) and Danny Infante (bass guitar), along with a few additional New Orleans musicians. The bulk of the album, however, is a showcase for the multitalented King, who performs all vocals along with the majority of instruments including electric and acoustic guitars, accordion, harmonica, mandolin, banjo, bass, and piano.

With the popularity of vinyl on the rise, King conceived this album as two suites, covering side A and B of a LP, rather than the strictly linear CD sequence. Side A is the “Baron Samedi Suite,” referencing the Loa spirit (aka lord of the crossroads) in Voodoo religion, while Side B is the “Jelly Roll Suite,” linking New Orleans’ jazz and blues traditions. The styles of the nine original songs and one cover are as varied as the titles of the suites suggest.

As his alter ego Baron Samedi (wearing black top hat and tuxedo), King is the consummate blues-rocker. Opening with “American Man (In the Key of Free),” he sings about the American dream in this upbeat, retro-styled song with overdubbed background vocals adding just a touch of contemporary club vibe. Digging deeper into the Samedi theme on “Voodoo Child (On Hell’s Highway),” he whips out his Fender Stratocaster and adds enough reverb and electrifying solos to appease the spirits.  “Friday Night Bleu” and “Have You Seen My Princess?” are straight ahead blues tracks, showcasing King’s prowess as an electric blues guitarist and his ability to single handedly cover all instruments and drum programming.

As side “A” side comes to a close with “Rock and Roll Conjurer,” King’s transformation into the dark lord of the underworld is complete. This sinister track is one of the highlights of the album (think Prince’s “Darling Nikki” but with a voodoo theme and dash of harmonica). Referencing the mythical “house of the rising sun,” CTK then sings, “Baby you don’t delay / the voodoo party it won’t wait / Yeah, you know me, Chris Thomas King / I rule the streets of New Orleans / Yeah, you’ll spend the night with me / I’ll conjure your rock and roll fantasy.”

Flipping over to the piano suite “B” side, CTK conjures an entirely different atmosphere, recreating the feel of an acoustic set in a traditional NOLA jazz club. The first two tracks pay homage to the clarinet, an “essential solo instrument in New Orleans blues” 100 years ago. Owen Callahan is the featured clarinetist on the opening track, “Les Bleus Was Born in Louisiana,” while Gregory Agid takes over on “White Folks Call It Jazz,” with Nathan Lambertson on upright bass (yes, there is a not-so-subliminal message here about the true roots of the blues). The heartfelt “Tabby’s on the Bayou” is about nights at Tabby’s Blues Box, his dad’s “ramshackle juke joint, before it was razed by the city of Baton Rouge in 1999.” CTK swaps his guitar for an upright piano, with shuffling second-line rhythms adding to the ambiance.

After enjoying all of these original songs, the acoustic cover of Adele’s “Someone Like You” is somewhat incongruous (CTK previously recorded “Rolling in the Deep” in a more compelling blues rock arrangement).  Likewise, the closing track “Rainbow Lullaby” is a nice folksy tune with harmonica, mandolin, and banjo, but doesn’t reinforce the “Jelly Roll Suite” concept.

Hotel Voodoo allows Chris Thomas King to display his formidable talents and wide-ranging musical interests. The album’s overarching theme is King’s love of Louisiana, and the blues and jazz conjured from the juke joints of the bayous and streets of New Orleans.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

Ahmad Jamal – Marseille

Ahmad Jamal
Title: Marseille

Artist: Ahmad Jamal

Label: Jazz Village [PIAS]

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: June 7, 2017

 

 

Ahmad Jamal does it again with the release of his newest album, Marseille. According to Jazz Village [PIAS], “Marseille is Jamal’s love letter to the iconic city in Southern France.” Throughout the album, we hear Jamal’s signature minimalist approaches, extended vamps, lush chordal harmonies, space and textures. This album presents a picture of the city through his expressive compositions and arrangements.

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Jazz has always been an evolving genre, drawing from popular and folkloric musics as inspirational tools for compositions.  As for Ahmad Jamal, at age 87, he continues to demonstrate his ability to perform and compose in the jazz tradition with the highest level of artistry.  Each track on this album (re)constructs musical forms and genres, offering new possibilities for jazz in the 21st century. Genres ranging from marches, New Orleans rhythms coupled with Southern Baptist influences (“Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child”), and Afro-Cuban 6/8 rhythm (“Pots En Verre”) are all heard as Jamal expresses his emotions towards the city of Marseille.

The title track is worth mentioning, as it is performed three times on this album, creating a sense of Jamal’s personal narrative. The album begins with the first iteration of “Marseille” featuring a steady march rhythm under lush chordal harmonies, supported by riffs in the piano and bass. The second iteration, placed halfway through the album, changes to a groove similar to Jamal’s arrangement of “Poinciana,” but includes a spoken word section (with lyrics by Jamal) performed by Abd Al Malik in French.

The final iteration of “Marseille,” and final track of the album, features Mina Agossi singing Jamal’s lyrics in both English and French. Similar to a story structure, each variation of “Marseille” further explores Jamal’s relationship with the city. Malik’s use of rhythm mixed with brief pauses and repetitions, and Agossi’s warm tone and melodic embellishment evoke the emotional sensation described in the lyrics. If you appreciate the compositional style of Ahmad Jamal and his use of space and textures, then this album will most certainly not disappoint.

Reviewed by Jamaal Baptiste

 

Hot 8 Brass Band – On the Spot

Hot 8 Brass Band
Title: On the Spot

Artist: Hot 8 Brass Band

Label: Tru Thoughts

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: March 31, 2017

 

The Hot 8 Brass Band uses their new release, On the Spot, to keep on doing what they do best.  The album is filled with the kind of up-tempo lively party music that one might expect from a top tier New Orleans brass band.  The Hot 8 is just that and they do not disappoint.

The album begins in spectacular fashion with “8 Kickin It Live” which is jam packed with energy via those great New Orleans syncopated rhythms which definitely had me dancing in my seat as I listened. Following are more original pieces, including “Working Together,” “Get It How You Live,” and “Bottom of the Bucket,” which is funky as all get out and features an infectious horn line with great feeling.

According to the Hot 8 Brass Band, “On the Spot” refers to the “glorious, rare moment in a New Orleans parade when the band stops to take a break but keeps playing for the crowd. Vibing and keeping the energy up, when they sync up and the magic happens—a new tune is created.”  You can almost hear this happening as the band lays into the title track.

The album features a few notable covers including “St. James Infirmary,” which sees the band dipping into classic New Orleans jazz and incorporating woodwind instruments into the track. Also covered is Sade’s “Sweetest Taboo,” reworked into a slightly more up-tempo jam, and Stevie Wonder’s “That Girl” which the Hot 8 mold in a rhythmic party anthem. The album closes out on a few more originals, most notably “Can’t Nobody Get Down” featuring a horn line reminiscent of Isaac Hayes’ “Do Your Thing.”

With On The Spot, the Hot 8 Brass Band truly does a great job at packaging as much of the live energy they bring to their performance as possible.  I can only imagine what heights are reached when experiencing the band in real time.

Editor’s Note: the Hot 8 Brass Band’s U.S. tour in support of the album begins May 27, 2017 in Denver.

Review by Levon Williams

Corey Henry – Lapeitah

Corey Henry
Title: Lapeitah

Artist: Corey Henry

Label: Louisiana Red Hot Records

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: September 6, 2016

 

Corey Henry was raised in the birthplace of jazz—New Orleans’s Treme neighborhood. Inspired by his environment and musical family, Henry started learning trombone at the age of 10, and by age 16 he was hired to play with the Treme Brass Band. Since then, he’s become a vital part of the New Orleans jazz scene, performing with his Little Rascals Brass Band and the nationally touring jam band Galactic. Last September, Henry released his solo debut, Lapeitah, out on Louisiana Red Hot Records. Produced and co-written by Brian J., Lapeitah includes nine originals and one cover that showcase modern New Orleans funk at its finest.

There are a number of guest stars on Lapeitah, including alto saxophonist Greg Thomas (George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic). Thomas plays on the exuberant “Muddy Waters” (below) and the soulful “We Got the Funk,” both of which share vocal choruses straight out of 1970s funk scene. Thomas is also featured on the instrumental “Get Funky,” which displays the connections between jazz and funk in a playful call and response between varying soloists and the rest of the musicians.

The album also features a number of guest vocalists, such as Corey Glover (Living Colour) on an impressive hard rock cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “If 6 Was 9.” Glover’s gritty vocals, which at times dissolve into rock star shrieks, are echoed by the timbre of Henry’s raw, relentless trombone solo. Nowhere is Henry’s New Orleans origin more evident than on the original “Baby C’mon,” featuring vocals by Cole “Ms. Cake” Williams. This funky, upbeat second-line pride song is perfect for Mardi Gras celebrations in Henry’s hometown.

The fusion of jazz and funk makes Lapeitah a joyful, celebratory outpouring of two of New Orleans’ most famous musical cultures. While the songs may sound carefree, the carefully curated songwriting and talent that Corey Henry and Brian J bring to the album prove that Henry is a force to be reckoned with in the New Orleans jazz and funk world.

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

Dee Dee Bridgewater, Irvin Mayfield & The New Orleans Jazz Orchestra – Dee Dee’s Feathers

DeeDeesFeathers

Title: Dee Dee’s Feathers

Artist: Dee Dee Bridgewater, Irvin Mayfield & The New Orleans Jazz Orchestra

Label: OKeh Records

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: August 7, 2015

 

Dee Dee’s Feathers celebrates New Orleans in a wide-ranging jazz album that explores the neighborhoods of NOLA and their respective cultures and musical genres. The album was even recorded at Esplanade Studios, located in a reconverted historical church that was damaged severely by Hurricane Katrina. It is overflowing with talent, featuring vocals by Grammy and Tony Award winner (for her 1975 role as Glinda in The Wiz) Dee Dee Bridgewater, Grammy-winning producer and trumpeter Irvin Mayfield, and backup by the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra.

The album takes listeners on a musical journey through New Orleans. “Big Chief,” a traditional Mardi Gras Indian song, celebrates the Second Line with six minutes of lively horns and guest vocals by Dr. John. “C’est Ici Que Je T’aime” transports the listener to the French Quarter, where Irvin Mayfield has created his Jazz Playhouse on historic Bourbon Street.

The title track, “Dee Dee’s Feathers,” is an incredibly fun original composition by Dee Dee, Irvin, and Bill Summers (of Herbie Hancock and the Headhunters fame). There is a clear Afro-Caribbean influence in the percussion, and an acapella section ends the song with great harmonies and vocal polyrhythmic layers.

Other original songs on the album include “Congo Square,” which again features Bill Summers and African drumming, and “From the Lake to the River,” a composition by Irvin about Elysian Fields Avenue, the only street in New Orleans that connects Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi River.

The album also features a stunning arrangement of Bloomington, Indiana native songwriter Hoagy Carmichael’s “New Orleans.” Starting with a muted brass solo, the song morphs into an impressive demonstration of Dee Dee’s incredible scatting skills as she imitates and then expands on the original melody.

Dee Dee’s Feathers is bound to be a treat for any listener as it is bursting with musical skill while also recognizing the many cultures of New Orleans and the multitude of jazz styles that have arisen from the Crescent City.

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

Danielle Nicole – Wolf Den

Danielle

Title: Wolf Den

Artist: Danielle Nicole

Label: Concord

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: September 25, 2015

 
 

Sometimes, a change of scenery can do wonders for a project. Take Danielle Nicole’s newest release, Wolf Den, for example. The singer is a proud St. Louis native, but for this album she traveled south to New Orleans. Teaming up with veteran producer and guitarist, Anders Osbourne, and enlisting some of the best session musicians in the city’s blues, roots, and funk scenes, Wolf Den achieves a swampy New Orleans-sound without losing Nicole’s preferred aesthetic of the “groove blues.” Her songs are both seedy and seductive. The album’s title track evokes a bar where sin runs amok and its clients are up to no-good, but, somehow, it still it remains irresistible.

Equally irresistible is Nicole’s musicality. The artist has proven herself as both a singer and bass player—she won the Blues Foundation’s 2014 Blues Music Award for Best Instrumentalist on Bass—and now, with Wolf Den, has also proved that her artistic turns can lead to fruitful new terrain.

Listen on Spotify here

Reviewed by Douglas Dowling Peach

Louisiana, Little Richard, and the History of Rock

Title:  Louisiana Rocks: The True Genesis of Rock & Roll

Author:  Tom Aswell

Publisher: Pelican

Format:  Hardcover book (500 p.)

ISBN:  978-1-58980-677-1

Publication date:  January 2010
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“Let us not forget the role that Louisiana—literally every corner of the state— played in shaping the new sounds that came roaring out of the swamps, the prairies, the red clay country, and the “colored” night clubs of New Orleans where no white man could legally go.” — Tom Aswell

Tom Aswell’s opus is a thoroughly enjoyable, entertaining ride through the history of rock using the state of Louisiana as the nexis.  Kicking off with a chapter on the “Birth of Rock and Roll,” he uses Cosimo Matassa and the J&M Studio as ground zero, which makes perfect sense for anyone familiar with New Orleans recording history.  Between 1947-1956, J&M Studio literally gave birth to the New Orleans sound. It was here that Matassa recorded many of the legendary figures in rock and R&B—Roy Brown, Professor Longhair, Dave Bartholomew, Fats Domino, Guitar Slim, Shirley & Lee, Lloyd Price, Big Joe Turner, Jerry Lee Lewis, Ray Charles —even  Little Richard  was brought in to record “Tutti Frutti.” Obviously, Aswell did not have a particularly difficult time proving his thesis.

Though the book is divided into chapters—The Birth of R&B, The Baton Rouge Connection, Blues Artists, Cajun and Zydeco, Swamp Pop, The Louisiana Hayride—each consists of relatively short vignettes (in alphabetical order) of the individual musicians and groups that contributed to the various styles.  While much of the biographical information could be gleaned elsewhere, Aswell does an admirable job of presenting a regional musical history, weaving the stories in and around the clubs, studios, radio stations, record labels, and record stores of Louisiana. The volume concludes with an alphabetical appendix of the artists and their top songs.  Sadly, the complete discography that Aswell compiled was cut by the publisher, but if we’re lucky it will surface in the future as a separate volume or perhaps a website.

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Title: Little Richard: The Birth of Rock ‘n’ Roll

Author:  David Kirby

Publisher:  Continuum

Format:  Hardcover book (218 p.)

ISBN: 978 0 82642 965 0

Publication date:  November 2009

“Tutti Frutti occupies a finite space smack in the middle of our huge-ass Crab Nebula of a culture. It’s like the skinniest part of an hourglass; everything that came before flows into this narrow pass, and the world we live in today flows out the other side.” —David Kirby
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David Kirby, a Distinguished Professor of English at Florida State University as well as a noted poet and music writer, has written a passionate treatise on Little Richard—or more precisely, why “Tutti Frutti” is the single most important song in rock (and pop) history.  As evidenced by the above quote, the book is a highly amusing read, and short enough that you can devour it in an evening. But you’ll definitely want to keep a copy on your bookshelf, if for no other reason than the numerous examples of truly inspired prose and the overabundance of quotable passages.

Kirby’s book makes an excellent companion volume to Aswell’s history, since scarcely a page goes by without some mention of Cosimo Matassa or Louisiana. For example, this quote from Laura Dankner and Grace Lichtenstein, featured in the introduction, demonstrates the common thread between the two books: “Much has been written about the transition of rhythm and blues into rock ‘n’ roll . . . But the transition was summed up best during a session at the J & M studio, when a flamboyant gay black pianist from Georgia sang ten syllables that shook the world.”

Little Richard: The Birth of Rock ‘n’ Roll will most certainly appeal to a very broad market, including fans of Little Richard, R&B music, and music lovers in general, as well as teachers of popular music and creative writing.

To hear Kirby discuss his book and Little Richard on Bob Edwards Weekend Hour, go to (http://www.wcpn.org/index.php/WCPN/an/25826/)

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

The Bright Mississippi

Title: The Bright Mississippi

Artist: Allen Toussaint

Label: Nonesuch

Format: CD (also available as MP3 and LP)

Catalog No.: 480380-2

Release date: April 2009

For more than 50 years, New Orleans native Allen Toussaint has occupied an exalted position in American pop musical life as a hit-making producer, songwriter, performer, arranger, and studio owner. He’s had great success with R&B stars Ernie K-Doe, Irma Thomas and Lee Dorsey, gotten funky with The Meters and Dr. John, and crafted horn charts for The Band’s live shows (captured in 1971/2’s Rock Of Ages album), to mention only a small fraction of his work. His song “Southern Nights” was a #1 hit on the country and pop charts in 1977 (via Glen Campbell’s cover version); he’s written a theater play; composed, directed, and performed in off- and on-Broadway productions; co-founded a charity non-profit organization in New Orleans with Aaron Neville; and, along the way, won election to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

But, until 2005’s Going Places (released on Toussaint’s son’s indy-label, Captivating Recording Technologies) and now 2009’s The Bright Mississippi (Nonesuch), the 71-year-old Toussaint had never recorded a jazz album. And make no mistake. The Bright Mississippi is not a pop or R&B effort, but one firmly grounded in the jazz tradition. While it draws its inspiration from the repertoire of heavyweights such as Beiderbecke, Bechet, Ellington, Monk, Reinhardt, Morton, Armstrong, and George Lewis, the song choices are personal and not overly obvious, in general shying away from the tried-and-true (“Solitude” and “St. James Infirmary” notwithstanding). His sidemen, too, are a quirky bunch of current generation jazz polymaths (Don Byron, Marc Ribot, Nicolas Payton are all in the band; Brad Mehldau and Joshua Redman each sit in on one tune), a testament to the esteem and respect Toussaint commands within the jazz community. Toss in the fact that Toussaint himself has always been a pianist of great gifts, with a lovely touch and grace to spare, and The Bright Mississippi would seem to be a can’t-miss affair. So, with all that going for it, why does this disc leave me so unmoved?

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Marsalis Music Honors Alvin Batiste

marsalis_music_alvin_batiste.jpgTitle: Marsalis Music Honors Alvin Batiste
Artist: Alvin Batiste
Label: Marsalis Music/Rounder
Catalog No.: 74946-0007-2
Date: 2007

 

Looking back on my days as an undergraduate music student at Southern University, I can remember listening in awe to Alvin Batiste, affectionately known as “Mr. Bat,” as he rehearsed the university jazz band. Even stumbling upon the sound of Mr. Bat practicing on solo clarinet was an unforgettable experience. I remember walking through the music annex with a friend during freshman year. We both played clarinet and were on our way to practice when we heard someone in the middle of some serious “shedding” (the term used at Southern for practicing) on clarinet. Once we arrived at the source of the shedding, we just stood there for a few minutes watching Mr. Bat in awe. Needless to say, we quickly hid our clarinets and began to slowly back away from his studio door.

Avant garde clarinet extraordinaire Alvin Batiste was born November 7, 1932 in New Orleans, Louisiana. He was first introduced to the clarinet by his father. As the story goes, the summer before entering Booker T. Washington High School Batiste’s father handed him a clarinet. Not taking the instrument seriously, he put it down after only tooting a couple of notes. Later, however, while visiting a cousin, Batiste heard a recording of Charlie Parker’s “Now’s the Time.” From that point on he was inspired, and eventually pursued both a Bachelor’s degree in Music Education from Southern University and a Master’s degree in clarinet performance and composition from Louisiana State University. During his college tenure, Batiste became the first African American soloist to be featured with the New Orleans Philharmonic. Throughout his career, Batiste performed with some of the most recognized jazz musicians of the twentieth century, including such giants as Cannonball Adderley, Ornette Coleman, Joe Robichaux, and Ray Charles (just to name a few). In addition to his talents as a player, Batiste was also interested in jazz education. He founded the jazz program at Southern University in 1969 and assisted in the creation of the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, where he also headed up the jazz program whose alumni include the Marsalis brothers. Tragically, Alvin Batiste suffered a heart attack on May 6, 2007 at the age of 74 and died hours before a scheduled performance at the New Orleans Jazz Festival.

Marsalis Music Honors Alvin Batiste takes the listener through 10 audibly delectable tracks steeped in the flavors of New Orleans. The feast begins with the beautifully garnished appetizer of “Clean Air.” Before tasting the morsel, you notice its vibrant coloration, which lures you in. You begin to nibble and find yourself throwing your head back with your eyes closed as you savor the crisp vocals of Edward Perkins and the pristine playing of Batiste. “I Wonder Where Our Love Has Gone” is the Merlot; you begin to blush as the clarinet cleanses your pallet with its mellow mood and smooth vibrato. The meal arrives with the sweet aroma of “Edith” and tangy zest of “The Latest.” After the main course, “Skylark” lulls you into a trance and convinces you to eat some more. At this point the doors of the kitchen swing open and in comes the dessert. “What about my diet?” you ask, trying to fight the urge for more. But its no use. “Bat Trad” and “Salty Dogs” are placed in front of you for dessert, and you’re quickly whisked away to the French Quarter where your diet no longer exists.

In the accompanying CD liner notes, Bob Blumenthal states that “the feeling of family permeated the recording sessions.” Batiste is joined by friend Edward Perkins (vocals), student Branford Marsalis (saxophones), student Herlin Riley (drums), Russell Malone (guitar), Lawrence Fields (piano), and Ricardo Rodriguez (bass). Further evidence of the family presence is exemplified through “My Life is a Tree,” the lyrics of which were written by Edith Batiste (Alvin’s wife). The words for “Everloving Star” were supplied by their son Maynard, and Batiste’s grandson’s nick name supplied inspiration for “Bumps.”

Marsalis Music Honors Alvin Batiste is a great CD for the masses, providing the uninitiated listener with a captivating and yet all too brief encounter with a musical legend. The last stanza of the Southern University Alma Mater reads “O Southern, Dear Southern, Thy name will ever be, as mighty as the river that flows on to the sea.” Just as mighty and enduring as that river is the name of Alvin Batiste and his great musical legacy, and it will flow on through recordings like this one.

Posted by Terence La Nier II